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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

What would you do with ten megabits per second, instead of 512kilobits? Better start thinking, because even with the big telcos dragging their feet, that's going to be commonplace by 2007... and it's already a reality for many Scandinavian computer users.

Just to remind us all of where the industry is actually going - it isn't copper. Reuters has a salutary reminder of what it is already like, with a report from Sweden.

To summarise, today's TV and music broadcast providers are living in the past. This really will change what people do for entertainment.

But can wireless keep up? Not with current technology.

"Since going superhigh-speed, computer student Rainer Kinnunen has set up two computer servers in his apartment in the Stockholm suburb of Eskilstuna. One supplies his digital photos to friends and family. On the other, he duels it out for hours a day with other players of the 'Half-Life: Day of Defeat' online war game."

And (the report adds) "he has enough bandwidth and server space left over to broadcast his DVDs from his apartment to his friends' computers in case they want to watch along from across town."

But that's the slow service. His ISP, Bredbandsbolaget "also offers 100-megabit-per-second service for 595 Swedish crowns ($79.49) a month in select neighbourhoods where the telecom wiring is state-of-the-art."

Apparently, around 1,500 households have signed up for the service already.

On the face of it, with WiFi already running at 11 megabits for 802.11b standard equipment, wireless users can match that today - and with companies like US Robotics offering 100 megabit wireless, what is the point of waiting for fibre links?

In fact, the arithmetic isn't that simple. In reality, you're lucky to get 2 megabits a second over 802.11b WiFi unless you're right next to the access point, and the only user. And on the nominal 54 megabit 11g standard, maximum throughput is only around 20 megabits, absolute max - most of the time you'll get half that. Share it with a lot of other users, and your share of the bandwidth drops accordingly.

Rainer Kinnunen streams video. Not only in, but out. The current assumptions of wireless Internet providers are based on the notion that you work in bursts, downloading data, then reading it - or at worst, that you stream relatively light-weight bandwidths of the sort used for VoIP phone calls.

Start playing DVDs for your friends across town, and "contention ratios" become suddenly a headache for the ISP, and one they aren't set up to cater for. And no, WiMAX isn't the answer...

© Newswireless.net

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